There Are No Loopholes, Only Laws

David Ralston is getting another thrashing for being both an attorney and Georgia’s Speaker of the House. Under Georgia law, legislators who are also attorneys will notify Judges that their legislative duties take precedence over trials and other judicial proceedings. (Nota bene that phrase, ‘under Georgia law.’) It was noted in the original article in the AJC: “Under a state law dating back to 1905, judges and prosecutors must defer to the legislative schedule of any practicing attorney who serves in the General Assembly.”  

The soon-to-be-sold Cox Media Group has unleashed all their hounds in pursuit of Georgia’s House Speaker, as they have done before. This go-round began with a story on WSB-TV, along with Johnny Edwards at the AJC, Erick Erickson on WSB Radio, (and his other outlets) and political columnist Jim Galloway all trumpeting various aspects of the story, each of which has started and continues with a common theme: “The Speaker is a bad man and deserves punishment from someone and why isn’t he getting it?” The narrative spread to outlets as ‘respected’ as GPB’s Political Rewind and Debbie Dooley’s Atlanta Tea Purity email newsletter. Even retired talk-show host Neal Boortz has been pulled out of mothballs to call for sanctions. The outrage mob has been formed and is seeking the defenestration of David Ralston. 

This is a localized instance of the poisonous nature of our current public discourse -as set in motion by the media. It’s not “fake news,” but rather a narrative focused on the wrong thing.  Galloway was the first to inject the word “resign” into the verbal scrum by noting that no one had called for Ralston to do so. Erickson has now successfully shamed at least one House Republican into calling for exactly that. Dooley continues to urge her minions to mobilize -against Ralston. I have no doubt that Johnny Edwards has more stories in the can quoting someone who’s terrified of retribution from the “powerful Republican House Speaker.” (It’s interesting to note that former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams has not, nor have former governors Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes, who went so far as to say “He’s been piled on pretty heavy, but there’s another side to this. It’s foolhardy to call for his resignation.” ) That’s how you can tell this is an orchestrated political hit -it’s all aimed at the person while virtually ignoring the problem in the structure of the system. 

As an attorney, David Ralston is obligated to vigorously defend his clients, even clients accused of serious crimes, even clients he may dislike. Failure to do so would result in sanctions from the Georgia Bar. As a legislator, he has legislative duties that he and all other lawyer-legislators prioritize over judicial matters when the two are in conflict. Failure to do so would be a breach of Georgia law. Which code would Ralston’s detractors have him, or other attorney-legislators, violate? 

There are a number of options available that do not require tarring and feathering David Ralston. The law dates to 1905 -it could be changed, repealed or modified. (Just as it has been before, in 2006, when Glenn Richardson was speaker.) It’s not hard to come up with corrective amendments -Delays could be set at a fixed number, or a fixed number of days per case. Judges could be given discretion in deciding what’s reasonable. I claim no legislative expertise beyond the “I’m Just a Bill” song from Schoolhouse Rock, but the point is that laws can be changed, and there’s a process for doing so currently underway at the State Capitol, you may have heard of it. 

There’s also the 6th Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing the accused a right to a speedy trial, which has, in some states been expanded to Victims’ Rights laws. In Georgia, since 1995, crime victims have the right to “proceedings free from unreasonable delay.” Sounds like the 1995 law conflicts with the 1905 law, (or its 2006 amendment) -but I believe Georgia still has Appellate and Supreme Courts charged with resolving such conflicts, and perhaps there’s at least one attorney in Georgia not paralyzed by fear of David Ralston who could take the matter up.

What the outrage brigade seeking Ralston’s scalp fails to note is that getting rid of the current speaker would leave the same ability to forestall judicial proceedings in favor of legislative proceedings in the hands of all other attorney-legislators, and any other attorney-Speaker. When “legality and morality don’t always align,” as one back-bencher has said, the proper response to align them, because it’s not David Ralston that’s “powerful,” it’s the office of Speaker of the House. Does the office have too much power in this instance? It would be interesting to find out, and perhaps even inform and educate the public in doing so.

But legislative process and judicial appeals are make for slow, complicated stories, often too tedious for an attention-span deprived public, eager for the outrage of the day, to bother with. Today it’s more profitable to personalize the political, isolate the target, and encourage your side to “Get him!” 

The pen is supposed to be mightier than the sword, but it seems that today’s media would rather push angry mobs into using clubs. 


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